Longtime readers of this site know what a traditionalist I am when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. Actually, with my disdain for change – I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to just about everything. But you can multiply my appreciation for tradition many times when we’re talking about the Indianapolis 500.
That’s why I was distraught when the inevitable day finally arrived when Jim Nabors announced that 2014 would be his last to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana just before the start of the race. I was there the day Nabors first sang that special song back in 1972. Although he didn’t sing it every year since then, he and his voice have been associated with that song and the “500” over the last few decades.
Nabors had the honor of singing it from 1972 through 1978. Then 1979 began a four-year stretch with others rotating through. He returned in 1983 and 1984, but then took off the next two years. Beginning in 1987, no one besides Nabors performed (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the Indianapolis 500 until 2015. Granted there were a couple of years when health problems prevented Nabors from making the trip from his home in Hawaii, but that was handled by recordings and the crowd singing.
The a cappella singing group, Straight No Chaser was tabbed for the honors in 2015. While I liked the idea to go a completely different direction from Nabors for the first year without him, I found their performance to be somewhat underwhelming and leaving me a little flat. This past year, Indianapolis resident Josh Kaufman was selected for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I had never heard of him and a check of his You Tube performances left me cold. However, I was pleasantly surprised with his rendition along with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.
But there was just something about the big baritone voice of Jim Nabors that sent chills through your body, no matter how hot it was in the stands. Plus, there was the tradition of hearing a familiar voice over the years that told you that another Indianapolis 500 was upon us.
Prior to 1972, there was no regular voice for (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the “500”. It was a revolving door of singers of varying notoriety, much like those that are chosen for the singing of the National Anthem. Some may have liked a different singer each year, but I think the vast majority of us preferred welcoming back the familiar voice of Jim Nabors year after year.
But we knew that it couldn’t last forever. Father Time catches up with us all. I was happy that we were told ahead of time that the 2014 race was to be the last time for Nabors. That way we could savor the moment one last time and pay tribute to him accordingly. It would have been bad had we just found out in February of 2015 that he would no longer be doing it. When it was announced that 2014 would be his last, some suggested a recording of Nabors singing the famous song to be played each year, long after he’s gone. As much as I like tradition and familiarity, I found that suggestion to be a little on the creepy side.
Fortunately, that suggestion wasn’t taken seriously. But now that we have had two vastly different performances of that special song, I would like to see a return to a familiar face and voice for that moment. In March of 2014, just after Nabors announced his pending retirement, I wrote a post in which I mentioned that my oldest brother had recommended TV star Mike Rowe as a possible replacement for Nabors. After listening to a few samples of his rendition of the National Anthem, I heartily agreed.
For the two-and-a-half years that followed, I was touting Mike Rowe to be tabbed for at least one appearance to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the start of the Indianapolis 500 to anyone that would listen. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Last week, Mike Rowe posted an unofficial audition for the gig on his Facebook page. It went viral throughout the IndyCar community. I shared it along with many others. It didn’t take long for it to make it to IMS President Doug Boles. Here’s the video that I hope is viewable. He talks for a minute or so about being from Maryland and then belts it out while sitting at his kitchen table.
This past Tuesday night, Boles was on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. When asked about the video, Boles acknowledged that he was very impressed with the video and admitted that he and Rowe had talked. He said that even though Rowe had never attended the “500”, he was very impressed with his knowledge of the history of the race. Boles stopped short of saying that Rowe would be the singer for this year or any coming years.
Not only am I campaigning for Mike Rowe to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana for the 101st Indianapolis 500 next May; I would like to see him become the permanent replacement for Jim Nabors. At age 54, he could do it for many years to come. Familiarity is a good thing when it comes to traditions. I would like for Mike Rowe to become a familiar face with the Indianapolis 500.